In a move that has some calling it a political power play, President Joe Biden welcomed three Tennessee state lawmakers to the Oval Office on Monday for what the White House is calling a “conversation” on “commonsense gun reform.”
Reps. Justin Pearson, Justin Jones, and Gloria Johnson all faced expulsion votes from a Republican–led legislature following their participation in protests over a school shooting in Nashville last month. However, local officials later reinstated them on an interim basis.
“What you’ll see is the president sitting down with these three legislators, having a conversation on how to move forward, on how to move forward with commonsense gun reform, how to move forward on protecting our communities, our kids, our churches,” stated secretary Karine Jean-Pierre to reporters. “He will hear them out, and he looks forward to having that conversation.”
The visit comes just days after Vice President Kamala Harris traveled to Nashville, in support of the “Tennessee Three”, who are all Democrats, and their calls for greater gun control.
The move, while praised by supporters of gun control, has been met with criticism from those critical of Biden’s gun control agenda.
“President Biden is using the tragedy of a school shooting to push his own political agenda,” said Republican Senator Jeff Flake. “We’re seeing the same tactics used in other areas of public policy, such as immigration and climate change, and it’s a dangerous game to play.”
Others are worried that the move is further evidence of a partisan divide in the country.
Jones explained to the media in Tennessee that he will call on Biden to issue a public health emergency related to gun violence.
“I think that we need emergency response [because] we’re facing a crisis situation,” Jones stated, as reported by WTVF. “In states like ours, we need help from our national leaders, because we’re in a state where the only action that our colleagues took in response to the mass shooting in Nashville was to expel the two youngest Black lawmakers and then to pass a law to protect gun manufacturers. That’s all they passed this session.”
The White House has, however, defended the move, saying that it is not about partisan politics, but about “protecting our communities, our kids, and our churches.”
Though many are skeptical, the meeting may be a sign of progress. It is, at the very least, a step in the right direction and a sign that the President is willing to have a conversation on the issue of gun control.